Oz sniffed the air and growled low in his throat. The hunter was nearby, the same one who had nearly gotten Mary yesterday. He would have to be dealt with; nothing could try to harm the pack and then walk away.
Thirty years ago, he would have gone after the man on his own. Experience had proven the folly of the lone wolf, though, so he gestured to Jordy and Christian, sending them around to flank the man. He took another deep breath, concentrating on the scent. One human, alone. This shouldn’t take long. He shifted into wolf with the ease of long practice and loped into the underbrush.
In wolf form, he could tell almost instantly when the hunter first caught sight of one of the others. The smell of fear pulsed through the woods with every rapid heartbeat. Brave enough to go after one of the most vulnerable in the pack when she was in human form, but not truly prepared to hunt anything more. The werewolf snorted in contempt. If you went after one, you better be ready to fight the whole pack. Oz pricked up his ears and listened. The hunter turned hunted was crashing through the forest, heart pounding madly as he ran from the wolves pursuing him. If the man hadn’t attacked Mary, they would have let him go, chased him back to civilization and returned to their territory for a more satisfying hunt. But an assault on the pack had to end in death.
The clumsy prey moved closer, and Oz’s heartbeat picked up in response. The boys were doing an excellent job running it to him. He tensed, watching the trees. Now!
Oz leapt out of the bush he was using for cover and brought the man down to the ground. Without pause he brought his jaws to the throat and cut the man off in mid-plea. Blood spurted, the victim twitched beneath him, and then all was quiet.
When Jordy and Christian slipped into the clearing, he was already in human form and going through the dead man’s pockets. Christian waited until he was done and picked up the body without a word. They walked back to the house with only a few murmured words exchanged.
Evan was waiting on the porch with a shotgun in his hands when they brought the carcass in. He nodded with satisfaction and limped inside, reappearing in a minute with a shovel. Jordy took the tool and walked toward their thankfully small burial ground, Christian following behind.
Oz walked in and tossed the Watcher’s Council ID on the counter. They must be getting desperate to send an amateur like Jasko out here. Hopefully there wouldn’t be another for a while. At least there weren’t any Slayers left to send. He would have hated killing a Slayer.
Anna was sitting at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of coffee. “Mary’s gone to bed,” she said softly. Oz nodded and moved past her into his bedroom. Despite the fifty-seven years he had spent as a werewolf, he never could get past the need for clothing in human form. He felt Anna’s presence in the doorway, watching him as he dressed. If he turned around, she would be running her right hand over her mangled left. It had been a hunter’s trap that had crippled her and driven her from her first pack and to his little band of outcasts.
He sat down on the bed and she curled up beside him, resting her head on his lap. “Does she know she was in danger?”
“No. She never does.”
“I know.” Oz brushed his fingers through her short brown hair, a slight frown on his face. Mary never understood that people might want to harm her, or even that most people weren’t werewolves. She was his eternal ten year old, trusting everyone completely. Even as a wolf, she just wanted to play with the others of her pack.
Oz was glad that Mary didn’t know, would never know, that she needed the protection of the pack. He wished he could have the same innocence.
Anna’s breathing was rhythmic and her presence soothing, but it couldn’t entirely dissipate the worries. Not for the first time, he wished that he had fought with the Slayers during the battle that had wiped out all but a few pockets of supernatural beings. It might have protected his pack from the scorched earth policy that the Watcher’s Council now applied to all non-humans. It might have protected him from the necessity of killing Watchers.
It might have even saved the Slayers.